Loughborough University 1 Boldmere St Michaels 2
Midland Football League – Premier Division
I was a tax dodger once, it was great, you didn’t pay any tax, but then again, you didn’t have any money either!
Students, once a source of humour on Soccer AM back in the Tim Lovejoy days, have, over recent years, been a real source of discussion when it comes to non-league football. Allow me to explain.
Universities in the UK have their own competition, the British Universities & Colleges Sport, or BUCS for short. Typically playing on a weekday afternoon, the games are of a high standard, certainly at the top end of the leagues, and of course, for the hopper that doesn’t have to worry about paid employment, they are a good way to pass idle time of an afternoon.
But, the odd University has taken it upon themselves to try and enter the football pyramid, and probably the most famous of these was Team Bath. Based at Bath University, they started life in the Western League, and within less than ten seasons had reached the Conference South. They became the first University side to reach the First Round proper of the FA Cup since 1880, playing Mansfield Town, and on the back of that gained tremendous publicity.
They started out at the University Sports Ground but as they rose through the pyramid, grading requirements meant they had to share at Bath City’s Twerton Park, not that it mattered because they had no fans.
However, it turned out that because Team Bath were not a Limited Company in their own entity, which contravened Conference rules, they were forced to resign, which they did from the non-league pyramid effectively.
The club was controversial in the sense that the squad was made up of both students and semi-professional footballers, and under the freedom of information act it came to light that the wage bill / scholarship payments was not insignificant. Clearly universities are not short of money (taxpayers) so again, this was a real debating point in non-league circles.
Team Bath aside, the other club who have hit the headlines is Cardiff Metropolitan University, who now ply their trade in the Welsh Premier League, the top tier of football in the principality, and if I were a betting man, they’ll qualify for Europe sooner rather than later. Similar questions have been asked about the ‘legitimacy’ of the qualification of players, and indeed the sources of funding.
So, University sides are controversial, quite simply because they are perceived to use taxpayers money to motor through the leagues, but is that really the case? Is it really that simple and straightforward? I’m not sure? It is very much a perception thing, but the perception is not a positive one.
So, Loughborough University FC, a club that started life in the non-league pyramid in recent times playing in the Midland Combination. Nased at the Nanpantan Road ground of Loughborough Dynamo, they won the top flight in 2009 and moved into the Midland Alliance. For a number of seasons they threatened, finishing fourth twice and fifth, but in more recent years it’s been a struggle and they’ve spent much of their time in the lower reaches.
But, when they moved to the purpose built stadium within the grounds of the University, that was when eyes were opened. When I first visited the stadium it was a jaw dropping experience. A huge main stand with a fabulous bar / food area overlooking the pitch is the focal point, but the rest of the ground is terraced on all three sides. It has an electronic scoreboard, floodlights and a quite brilliant playing surface. It really is a showpiece stadium, good enough for hosting football at a much higher level, but my first thought, if I’m honest, was that it was ‘my’ money that helped pay for it!
I’m not being cynical, but whenever you see anything being built on a University complex you immediately think of taxpayers money, like it or not, it’s true. This is definitely the case with the
Loughborough University stadium.
But, it’s not the universities or students fault that they have access to such huge pots of cash, so no blame can be apportioned to them whatsoever.
They have some very good players, but, I would hazard a guess that the best footballers at Loughborough University don’t play for the football team? Why would that be? Simple really, they are too good, remembering that this is a sporting centre of excellence. I suspect the best players are plying their trade at much higher levels such as the Northern and Southern Premier, and even the National League’s. It’s a better standard and they can probably earn very good money doing so.
I’ve been to the ground a couple of times in the past and enjoyed the experience, despite the fact crowds are not huge, and do tend to get lost somewhat in a stadium of its size. If you pick a strategic place in the bar you can get a view akin to watching from an executive box, so I don’t begrudge them a bit of my tax for that luxury!
The game against Boldmere St Michaels was an interesting one. Christian Eneremadu gave the hosts a first half lead with a well taken goal, but ten minutes into the second period Harry Craven found the net for the equaliser.
The winning goal for Boldmere was a bizarre one. A corner was swung across and completely unchallenged the students goalkeeper, Jake Hilton, who up to now had played very well, inexplicably punched the ball into his own net.
So that was that, three points for the men from Sutton Coldfield while the students will be kicking themselves over the outcome, especially after playing so well in the first half.
My old seat of learning, Keele University, also has a football team playing in the Staffordshire County Senior League. I quite like them, and I’d like to think my overdraft facility that was spent behind the student union bar was what helped them on their way.
You see, I don’t mind spending someone else’s money, like the banks, it’s just I get a bit uptight when people spend mine! I think I need to speak to Harry Redknapp’s Accountant……